Portland to San Francisco Road Trip
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- Portland to Bandon
- Bandon to Eureka or Redding
- Eureka or Redding to San Francisco
- Roadside assistance
A one-way Portland to San Francisco road trip will take three days to complete if you drive about four hours each day. This leaves you plenty of time to frolic along the Pacific Coast, which is filled with places to explore—from boisterous beaches to quiet forested trails beneath the redwoods.
Of course, you will have to choose between the coastal route and the inland route. Luckily, you can’t go wrong—both options offer gorgeous views and good eats. You could even go down the coast and then return up the inland route.
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Ready to discover the wild and free Pacific Coast road trip of your dreams? Start your engines.
Day 1—Portland to Bandon
Travel time: This leg takes 4 hours to drive if you travel nonstop. Take the coastal route for the best view and the most options for outdoor recreational activities. You can always retreat inland if it’s too blustery on the coast.
Where to stop: Whew, there’s no shortage of gorgeous Pacific beaches on this leg of your trip! Some are a bit wilder and you may need to whip out the rain gear and hiking boots to tackle the trails. Others are much more welcoming, with a parking lot just around the corner from crashing waves.
Some stops worth checking out on the Oregon Coast include Cape Kiwanda, Neskowin Beach, and Devil’s Punchbowl.
Don’t be afraid to stop at a roadside shack. You will discover all kinds of interesting characters on the Oregon Coast, many of whom have escaped city life and are living out their hippie dreams.
Where to eat: Restaurant Beck in Depoe Bay is a great spot for fresh food inspired by the local landscape. You can choose courses or eat a la carte. In Newport, try Local Ocean, where the seafood is the star. There are vegetarian items on the menu for those who don’t eat seafood.
Once you arrive in Bandon, head to The Nest Cafe for a reliable meal in hot or cold weather. It’s comfort food at its finest, with soups, sandwiches, and other hearty food that is finely prepared.
Where to sleep: Sleep in Bandon (a resort town) at one of the many gorgeous inns near the beach. You can also go car camping if you find a quiet place to park overnight. It can get quite windy at the seaside, so it’s worth spending a bit of money on solid lodging if you’re a light sleeper and don’t want to be disturbed by the racket outside.
What to do: Cape Kiwanda is located in Pacific City, about 100 miles from Portland. If you like, you can drive your vehicle directly onto the beach here!
There’s a boardwalk, dunes, and picturesque views over the ocean. The sand is fairly well packed, but be sure your vehicle is equipped to handle the beach before attempting to get up close and personal.
Travel south another 20 minutes to Neskowin Beach, known for its wide-open beach views without the crowds. Walk the shore or look for a trail slightly inland.
Devil’s Punchbowl is about 60 minutes south and is definitely worth your time. The parking lot is close by (with bathrooms) and the stunning natural whirlpool below the rocks is unique.
At the halfway mark of today’s leg is Heceta Head Lighthouse, a great photo op with a view of the ocean. Yes, it’s touristy, but you’ll be rewarded with a postcard-like perspective of the Pacific Ocean roaring against a classic white and red lighthouse. This one is worth visiting, rain or shine.
Travel tips: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by choices on the Oregon coast, with signs for a beach around every corner. Stick to a few key locations so you don’t suffer decision fatigue.
And keep your eyes on the road, as it can be a bit winding at times. Always pull over if you don’t feel safe navigating in heavy rain or wind.
Pro Tip It can get blustery on the coast, so make sure to hike (and park) carefully while obeying all posted signs.
Day 2—Bandon to Eureka (coastal route) or Redding (inland route)
Travel time: The coastal route takes about four hours nonstop to Eureka. The inland route takes five hours nonstop until you reach Redding.
Where to stop: Coastal route: Gold Beach, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Klamath, and Klamath National Forest. Inland route: Medford and Mount Shasta.
Where to eat: Coastal route: The Chart Room Restaurant in Crescent City is right on the water and offers a seafood-based menu. There are plenty of other eateries near the shore, but the Chart Room has a prime location.
In Arcata, just before your destination, pop into the Wildflower Cafe and Bakery for vegetarian food. They’re open for all three meals and they serve great coffee. In Eureka, head to the Lost Coast Brewery for a filling meal and a tour of the brewery.
Inland route: If you’re on the I-5, you can fill your belly in Ashland at Smithfield’s or in Redding at Taqueria Los Gordos.
Where to sleep: Coastal route: Catch some zzz’s at Lady Anne Victorian Inn (or any other of the numerous charming B&Bs) in Eureka. You won’t have to pay for breakfast if you stay at a B&B!
Inland route: Go car camping in the Shasta forest or enjoy a sleek city stay at the Americana Modern Hotel in Redding. If you plan to hike in the sand and dirt, it might be wise to book a hotel room.
What to do: Gold Beach is a great place to explore on the coast. You can check out a shipwreck or even take a jet boat ride onto the water if you have time. The city offers plenty of interesting storefronts if you want to stretch your legs or pick up a souvenir.
Your first California stop is Fern Canyon, a stunning riverside trail adorned with ferns. This is a great stop on a hot day since it’s mostly shaded. One hour south is Moonstone Beach, a rustic area with tide pools and blustery windswept sand. It’s a bit exposed, so be prepared with sunscreen and sturdy rain gear (depending on the weather).
In Redding, check out the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens—and then walk across the iconic Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River. The sculpture park makes for a nice mini-adventure, too.
Travel tips: On this stretch, enjoy watching the landscape slowly transition from Oregon’s wetness to California’s dryness. It can get quite hot on the inland route, so be sure to pack (and drink) plenty of water if you plan to explore outside under the sun.
A final tip: Don’t be afraid of dirt! If you do it right, a Portland to San Francisco road trip is bound to include some grime. Save the cleanup for the end of your tip and don’t stress about the mess in your car—just enjoy the adventure.
Pro Tip The inland route is faster but the coastal route offers more interesting activities.
Day 3—Eureka or Redding to San Francisco
Travel time: Coastal route: Five hours from Eureka to San Francisco. Inland route: Three and a half hours from Redding to San Francisco on I-5 and I-505, if you avoid the city of Sacramento.
Where to stop: Coastal route: Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Santa Rosa, and Point Reyes. Inland route: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and Lagoon Valley Park in Vacaville.
Where to eat: It’s all about seafood and farm-to-table on this route. Wild Fish in Mendocino won’t disappoint, and Nick’s Cove in Point Reyes is a popular place to grab a bite before you head into San Fran. There are tons of mom-and-pop shops dotted along the coast, too, so don’t worry about finding a bite to eat on this stretch.
Of course, you should also plan to eat in San Francisco. From authentic Chinese food to vegan Mexican food, these are many good stops for a foodie road trip through the Bay Area.
Where to sleep: Proper Hotel is a great experience on Market Street if you have several hundred dollars to drop on lodging. For those on a budget, there are plenty of unique vacation rentals and backyard retreats in the area or nearby Oakland. Make sure you inquire about parking permission, as many neighborhoods are very strict about who is allowed to park there.
What to do: Fort Bragg’s glass beach is a classic and unique pitstop on this route. The glass accumulated on this beach following decades of garbage being dumped near the coast—thankfully this garbage has resulted in something beautiful over time. Note that it’s illegal to remove glass from the beach.
The Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino offers delightful shaded trails and every NorCal element you could wish for: canyons, beaches, and headlands. Don’t miss driving through the Cypress Tree Tunnel in Point Reyes—and have your camera ready. You’ll feel like you’re in the Tuscan countryside, especially if it’s foggy out.
Once you arrive in SF, head to the Sutro Baths ruins for an interesting experience and a lovely ocean view.
Coming from Redding? Stop by the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, a beautiful wetland with a convenient driving route that allows you to stay in your car. Keep an eye out for birds here.
Lagoon Valley Park in Vacaville is set on hundreds of acres and it’s a great place to stretch your legs before arriving in town. You can either walk the trails or play a scenic game of disc golf.
Travel tips: It’s easy to let day three pass you by as your destination approaches, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Try to keep an adventurous mindset and you might be surprised how much there is to see. Agricultural history, vineyards, and rewilding projects abound in this region—and it’s all visible in the landscape around you.
San Francisco, California
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